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The Coalition Agreement sworn to by National commits that Party to an Ongoing Decision-Making Principle, namely that, "The Coalition Government will make decisions that are: Principled-making decisions based on sound public policy principles, including problem definition, rigorous cost benefit analysis (CBA) & economic efficiency". It tied that principle to Budgets, stating such decisions must be "Fiscally responsible - with spending decisions based on rigorous cost-benefit analysis to ensure taxpayer money is treated with respect .."

So how many spending decisions in Willis' 20024 Budget were subject to Cost-Benefit Analysis? From everything I know about it, not one. That's why Willis' answers to Jack Tame on the topic of failing to fund cancer drugs that she promised for hundreds of Kiwis were shambolic. Who is she to play God and say that there was, in her judgment, not enough money for that purpose? (But there is enough to pay the world's richest man, American Jeff Bezos, to make more Lord of The Rings Movies, in Wellington?) Who is Willis to say she is now going to "prioritize" funding those drugs, telling Tame she should be able to do so by the end of the year, all because she has got some bad headlines out of it? Where is the "principle", or has she none?

All these answers should instead have been framed by Willis in the context the benefits & costs of such decisions. Will ten more people die before the year end because they cannot get these drugs, while she is looking into prioritizing them? Is she just prioritizing them now because the "optics" are not looking good for her? If a human life is valued at $5 million in a CBA, then that's a terrible cost of $50 million. Pharmac do apply these techniques - so why didn't Willis use their benefit-cost ratios & compare them to the ratios of her preferred use for those funds, providing evidence that her choices had higher societal benefits? I'm not begging her to do so - I'm saying she swore to do so in her own Coalition agreement. It did not give her discretion to just say she would slash and spend how she felt like.

When no objectivity is applied to spending decisions, it opens politicians up to accusations they're spending money to help their own re-election chances. Willis lives in Wellington, as does Chris Bishop. He won his seat - she narrowly lost hers. Does she want to keep movie subsidies to help her win a Wellington seat next election? It is legitimate to ask that question, since she swore by the use of "rigorous cost-benefit analysis" and made it a central principle of her new-style of government, yet reneged on that promise in favor of playing politics. Even worse - she is now reacting to media pressure, saying she will reverse herself because she's got bad headlines. Seems she's doing a Cost-of-Looking-Bad-in-a- Jack Tame Interview, versus the Benefit of Not Looking Bad in a Jack Tame interview analysis.

Newsroom has been lamenting, as you would expect, the new coalition's education policies. Today it reports the headline, "Budget shifts universities’ financial burden onto students". Yes, that woman the left are determined to paint as the Reincarnation-of-Ruth-Richardson, The Mother of Meanness, Nicola Willis, has drawn the disapproval of Otago University Student Association President Keegan Wells. Keegan just has to be a budding student-in-training-to-be-a-new-generation-Labour Party MP, following in the big paw-prints of her new Vice-Chancellor Grant Robertson. Grant knows all about how to make the jump from Varsity politics to national politics and then (this is the clever part) back again!? Keegan said Willis' Budget 2024 approach was “just not enough” and that it showed the Coalition talked a big game about education, but that talk ended “as soon as those students hit their teens".

But is that the truth? Or is it that many of the Otago students who cry poor are more likely to be found in pubs than lecture rooms? Will they now have to go easier on buying beers for their next party? That's not my view - instead its closer to the view of a chap called Emeritus Professor Peter Davis, who I had a coffee with a few years ago in Auckland. In a comment to Newsroom's article, Davis has the following to say (dated 31 May 2024):

Now if David Seymour from ACT dropped that comment on Newsroom, the students would label him Extreme Right. Dangerous. A hater. Worthy of protests. Someone who must be marginalized. Banned from campus. De-platformed. But I agree with Davis. He's onto it. I wish he'd been Education Minister, instead of Chippy Hipkins, who stuffed it up. As Davis observes, paying billions of bucks to the 70% of university students from wealthy families, who went to the best schools, is a huge transfer of wealth from poor to rich. Those funds could've been used to fund drugs from Pharmac, build hospitals, fix our cities' ailing infrastructure & fund apprentice-ships. But no. Instead the money is spent on booze in the South for posh Auckland students who went to Otago for a laugh.

Hang on? Wasn't it Peter Davis' wife, a certain Helen Clark, who sneakily stole an election off Don Brash, by declaring a few weeks before the election that student loans would become interest free? Or am I just imagining it? Do Peter & Helen have these kinds of disagreements at their breakfast table? Must be tense in the mornings.


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Robert MacCulloch

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